Neil Macdonald: Mitt Romney was right about the Benghazi attack
By Neil Macdonald, CBC News
Posted: Oct 19, 2012 6:12 AM ET
Last Updated: Oct 19, 2012 6:08 AM ET
Mitt Romney's Republican boosters are frustrated and infuriated, not just with their usual suspects in the mainstream media, but with their own presidential candidate.
And they have a right to be.
They believe Romney let President Barack Obama, the self-congratulating killer of Osama bin Laden, off the hook for its inexplicable handling of the murder by armed extremists of the American ambassador to Libya and three other government employees on Sept 11.
Serious questions have been building for weeks about that night.
It now seems clear that the Obama administration misled the American public by playing up the storyline that the incident in Benghazi was part of some spontaneous protest against the U.S., linked to the controversial video that was rocking the Muslim world at the time.
Rather than the planned assassination the administration now basically concedes it was.
It also seems pretty clear that there was a serious security failure, and perhaps an intelligence failure, on the night in question, as Romney claimed for a while, until he mysteriously stopped.
During the second presidential debate earlier this week, a member of the studio audience succinctly asked the president about the whole debacle. And yet, Obama escaped unscathed.Obama, outraged that Romney would challenge him over the death of an ambassador. But the administration may have more to answer to than it is letting on. (Reuters)
To the fury of conservatives, it was the debate moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley, who opened the door through which the president gratefully scampered.
That night and all the next day, Republicans hammered at the Benghazi exchange, calling it the most important moment of the night.
But then, late Thursday, after so much effort had gone into building a head of indignant steam, Romney himself appeared at two rallies in Virginia and didn't utter a word about the matter.
That evening, a Fox TV anchor asked, in a rather puzzled tone, why Romney was letting such an important issue go. It's a good question.
An act of terror?
For reasons that remain murky, it's also one that may remain unanswered.
Obama's senior officials have been evasive on the topic, and while it's unfair to call Crowley a lapdog, as some Republicans have – the woman is one of the smartest political journalists in Washington – even she has since admitted that Romney's concerns, which he attempted to voice in the debate, are "in the main" correct.
The Romney-Obama exchange began with a question Obama chose to dodge. Instead, he attacked Romney for playing politics with the issue.
Romney came back with a largely accurate, measured response, asking why Obama's administration took so long to acknowledge the attack was not spontaneous, but an extremist assault.
Obama, indignant, replied that the very next day, on Oct. 12, he had appeared in the Rose Garden and denounced the attack as "an act of terror."State Department official Charlene Lamb testifies at a congressional hearingabout the September 11, 2012 attack on the Libyan consulate in Benghazi. Diplomatic security in Libya was drawn down ahead of last month's fatal attack and U.S. officials did not have enough protection, former head of a U.S. security team in Libya, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, told lawmakers on Wednesday. (Jose Luis Magaua / Reuters)
When Romney tried to disagree, Crowley jumped in, straight-armed Romney and said the president was correct and that it was time to move on. Obama, delighted, asked her to repeat that, and she complied.
But while Obama did indeed use the word "terror" the day after the attack, and again on Sept. 13, at a political event, it was an indirect reference.
On the day of the incident, the president directly called the Benghazi attack "senseless violence," then went on to recall that it took place on the anniversary of 9/11, concluding with a general denunciation of "acts of terror."
And in the days that followed, his administration, for some reason, embarked on a concerted effort to blame the killings on the amateurish anti-Muslim YouTube video that had triggered protests at Western embassies worldwide.
Obama and his team repeatedly denounced the video, no doubt seeking to distance Washington from it as much as possible.
The most prominent administration messenger was Susan Rice, Obama's ambassador to the U.N. "What sparked the recent violence was the airing on the Internet of a very hateful very offensive video that has offended many people around the world," Rice told Chris Wallace of Fox News on Sept. 16, four days after Obama's Rose Garden remarks.
She explicitly said the killings in Benghazi were "a spontaneous reaction." And the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, was putting out the same line.
It was not until Sept. 20, nine days after the killings, that Carney finally told reporters that what happened was "an act of terror." Which is what some Republicans, notably John McCain, had been saying all along.
Why the discrepancies?
More recently, stories began to surface that in the weeks before the attack, the State Department had turned down requests that a military security team deployed in Benghazi be extended.
About a week before the second presidential debate, Republicans called current and former State Department employees before a House committee to explore those stories and found they were true.
The night before that hearing, a senior State Department official conceded during a background briefing with journalists that not only was the Sept. 11 attack in Libya not spontaneous, there had never been any public protest of the anti-Islamic video in Benghazi that day.
The attackers had shown up on a mission to kill. The killings were far from "senseless violence," as the president put it on Oct. 12.
Why the discrepancies? The administration has offered no clear explanation. Vice-president Joe Biden has blamed erroneous information from security officials. So, now, does Susan Rice.
But that doesn't square with reports the day after the killings, evidently emanating from intelligence briefings to lawmakers, that the attacks were military in nature, and employed heavy weapons, which several journalists, including me, reported on Sept. 13.
There, are, however, clues on the public record as to why the water remains so muddy. It is clear, for example, that the CIA was well ensconced in Benghazi, operating from an "annex" near the diplomatic mission. Eastern Libya is known as the country's Islamist centre.
There have been reports that several U.S. intelligence agents were evacuated shortly after the killings. It's hard to imagine they aren't back by now, with their own paramilitary protection, and anxious that their presence in Libya remains undisclosed.
Read what you will into Obama's icy glare during Romney's attempt to question him on why it took so long to admit there'd never been a demonstration in Benghazi on Sept. 11, but Romney has been receiving confidential intelligence briefings for weeks now, and the president would know what he's being told.
Again, it's conjecture, but that might explain Romney's silence on the Benghazi matter the day after the debate.
Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that the White House deliberately misled the public about the attack in Benghazi, either for security reasons or perhaps for political ones.
The Benghazi attack appears to undermine a central Obama campaign boast that al-Qaeda is "on its heels," if not a conquered force.
Many Republicans now want Romney to press this case in the final debate on Monday, which will be devoted entirely to foreign policy.
If Romney does, and the president is not given an escape hatch by the moderator again, it will be interesting to hear his answers.Obama and Romney, with debate moderator Candy Crowley, a veteran CNN reporter, on Tuesday night. (Reuters)
Top News Headlines
- Unknown remains found on Dellen Millard's farm
- Police searching the farm of Dellen Millard, the 27-year-old charged with first-degree murder after the remains of Ancaster, Ont., man Tim Bosma were discovered, have found other remains on the property, but it's unclear if they are human or animal. more »
- Canadian on EI shut out amid foreign worker influx
- A jobless Canadian IT professional who is collecting employment insurance is upset because he now suspects several recent jobs he applied for went to temporary foreign workers. more »
- Tornado strikes 2 elementary schools in Oklahoma
- A more than one-kilometre wide tornado hit two elementary schools around the Oklahoma City area on Monday, reported CNN, as twisters churned through the city's suburbs for the second day in a row. more »
- Can the Senate fire a senator?
- An expert on parliamentary rules says the Senate has the power to turf a senator from the chamber, as long as a majority approves the expulsion, and as long as there is cause. more »
Latest World News Headlines
- North Korea fires weapons after 'rocket launching tests'
- North Korea continued firing short-range weapons over its own eastern waters today after a weekend of what it called "rocket launching tests" intended to bolster deterrence against enemy attack. South Korean officials were investigating exactly what the North was testing. more »
- Yahoo buys Tumblr blogging site for $1.1B
- Yahoo is buying online blogging forum Tumblr for $1.1 billion as CEO Marissa Mayer tries to rejuvenate an internet icon that had fallen behind the times. more »
- D-Day beaches wind turbine proposal seeks Canadian comments
- Canadians are being given the opportunity to voice their opinions on a plan to build 75 wind turbines off the D-Day beaches in France. more »
- Nahlah Ayed: Vote-wary Iranians mull Ahmadinejad's successor
- Iranians go to the polls in less than four weeks to choose a new president. The reform movement is still smarting from its bitter defeat four years ago, but the jockeying for power is no less intense, Nahlah Ayed reports. more »
- PM's chief of staff resigns as Senate expense scandal unfolds May. 20, 2013 6:18 PM After a week of political turmoil over the Senate expense scandal, the Prime Minister's chief of staff Nigel Wright has resigned. But questions about the $90,000 cheque he cut for Senator Mike Duffy continue to swirl.
- Unknown remains found on Dellen Millard's farm
- Canadian on EI shut out amid foreign worker influx
- Central Newfoundland digs out from freak snowfall
- Petition looks to rename Victoria Day
- Missing Toronto woman's parents unfazed by Millard link
- Vancouver man attacked, killed in Costa Rica
- Edmonton driver, 62, charged in boy's patio death
- Jeep driver apologizes after stunt kills Edmonton woman
- Rob Ford should resign if allegations true, councillors say